By Segun Odegbami
Mr. Lee Edward Evans is dying.
Yet, he must not die without being given every chance to live. Particularly because he is an American, the greatest country in the world, a world renowned former athlete and coach, an American sports hero, and a member of the USA Athletics Hall of Fame.
During his years running in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was a ‘god’, loved and celebrated around the world. Lee was what Usain Bolt became at his most popular, but short of the flamboyance, publicity and the fortunes of the present days.
Lee Edward Evans was the first human to break the 45-seconds barrier for the 400 metres event when he was just 21. Thereafter, he broke 11 world records over different distances during his career as a sprints athlete. When he broke the World record in 400 metres for the last time it was at the 1968 Olympic Games where he won two solid Gold medals. That record stood for 20 years and was only broken by Michael Johnson who had to cover the distance at an almost, humanly impossible even-pace unseen before, or since, in athletics.
Lee’s second Olympic Gold medal was in the 4 × 400 m relay race.
After his career as an athlete Lee became one of the greatest sprints coaches in the world, following the template of his coach and mentor, another Hall of Famer, Lloyd Bud Winters. Lee has travelled the world working in different countries including Nigeria where he worked the longest and has coached a legion of some of Nigeria’s greatest athletes in history.
He is a pioneer member of the Olympic project for Human Rights.
In short, Lee Edward Evans is a true American legendary sports hero. He has been supporting me now for 2 years as a volunteer coach of young boys and girls at the Segun Odegbami International College and Sports Academy, SOCA, in Wasimi Orile, Ogun State, and transforming young lives positively.
I am writing this on Wednesday night In Abeokuta. I have just returned from probably the best hospital in Ogun State, Nigeria, at the moment – Babcock University Teaching hospital, Ilishan.
Lee Evans is lying in the Emergency ward of the hospital, attached to several tubes and gadgets, unconscious in the past three days.
Three days ago, we were having dinner outdoors with a few friends in Abeokuta, when he passed out suddenly on his seat at the table. It has become a nightmarish experience. Needless to go into the details.
Earlier today, the results of numerous tests carried out by the hospital revealed that he has suffered an unusual kind of stroke, with clots lodged in a blood vessel in his brain. He has not regained consciousness since then.
I was told that short of a miracle there is little more the hospital can do for him from the prognosis. At best it will manage him and provide palliatives.
For 2 days, with no access to the contacts on his phone, I was lost, unable to contact his family abroad. In the last few hours, with the help of a few of his American friends and some Nigerian former athletes, I have now made contact with his children in the US.
Yet, I am still alone here trying to manage the critical health situation of one of the greatest athletes not just in American history, but in the world’s, within the extremely limited Nigerian healthcare system.
The past 24 hours have been traumatic. I finally managed to reach a duty officer in the American Embassy in Lagos and reported Lee’s condition. Unfortunately, the embassy is not operating regular service as a result of the 2-days Ramadan holiday, so I could not accomplish much. I am required to keep updating the embassy on his condition.
As I write this, however, I am at my wits end. I just left the man lying unconsciousness on a bed in Ilishan, on life-support, medical tubes all over his body, an oxygen tank by his bed, breathing apparatus covering his face, indicating that he is now on life-support, and the resignation on the faces of the hardworking medical teams in the Babcock University Teaching Hospital working hard to make him as comfortable as possible.
The man must not die this cheaply. No one dies like a chicken in America anymore. That should not happen to any citizen of the most advanced country in the world, least of all their own citizen, a hero and celebrated global sports ambassador. America owes itself the responsibility to get Lee Evans to the best medical facility on earth in the United States, immediately.
Some 15 years ago, or so, my mother was diagnosed with cancer at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, sent back home with me, and given a maximum of six months to live. She was in her 80s.
Wole and Toyin, my younger siblings, insisted we disregard the prognosis, give her the opportunity of a secondary opinion and better healthcare system, and bring her to the UK. Thats what we did in faith.
It took a few surgeries and treatment, but in the end, with modern medicine and technology, 11 months in and out of hospital, the miracle happened, and our mother returned to Nigeria completely whole again. She lived for 11 additional years before she eventually died.
My mother is the source of my present hope in the medical ‘miracles’. But every expected miracle must be preceded by a step of faith.
That is what I humbly ask of the American Government now – to step in immediately and evacuate Lee Evans to the United States of America and give him a chance to survive his present, critical medical situation. To waste any time beyond the immediate will not be good enough. To leave him in Nigeria is to sign his death warrant.
Lee’s life matters. He can be saved if the United States government acts TODAY!
I can be reached at any time.